With World Health Day being celebrated on 7 April, we thought we’d take a look at the myriad ways that climbing – indoors and outdoors – promotes holistic health for both creaky grownups and bouncing kiddies...
It goes without saying that climbing, as with any physical activity, is fantastic for maintaining a strong, healthy body. That being said, it offers such a comprehensive range of benefits that it kicks the majority of other sports to the curb (in our very biased opinion, at least…). Let’s take a look at a few of the highlights...
This one is rather self-explanatory – dragging yourself up a wall requires a decent amount of strength, not only in the upper body, but also in the core and legs. The great thing about developing your strength through climbing is that you will be doing so in a relatively balanced way, since you’ll be getting a full-body workout on the wall. PLUS, as you grow your lean muscle mass, you will be boosting your metabolism and thus helping your body burn more calories while at rest.
Although climbing is often perceived as a form of strength training, there is a decent amount of cardiovascular exercise involved – particularly when it comes to sport and trad. Climbing regularly can therefore assist in raising your overall fitness level, which in turn can support improvement in other cardio-intense activities. Even better, climbing is a low impact sport, allowing you to spare your joints the trauma that comes with running, tennis, gymnastics and other high-impact exercises.
Proprioception is a fancy-pants term for awareness of the body. All disciplines of climbing require you to tap into how your body is moving and feeling, allowing you to develop a strong sense of how your body is interacting with the wall and surrounding space. This helps to improve coordination, balance and fine motor skills. If you’re a clumsy goose, climbing just may help to keep you on your feet and off your face!
In addition to getting those muscles nice and strong, climbing can do wonders for flexibility. It is important to note that when you are growing your bendy-ness you need to take it slow, listen to your body, and be careful to not overextend yourself. It may help to practice activities such as yoga or pilates which work to develop stability in the muscles, joints and tendons so that you can climb your hardest while staying injury-free!
While all exercise results in the production of endorphins (feel-good chemicals that help to relieve stress and pain, a.k.a. natural opioids), climbing offers some extra happiness fuel and mental health benefits thanks to a few key factors:
In order to climb safely and powerfully, you need to hone your focus and rid your mind of distractions. That means forgetting about looming deadlines, your ex-boyfriend and the existential dread that has been haunting you since March 2020. The end result is a quieter, calmer mind, and a healthy release of anxiety.
One of the most beautiful benefits of climbing is its ability to open your eyes to your own potential and strength. It’s all too easy to doubt yourself before you even touch the first hold, particularly if you are just starting out. However, you will soon find that you are capable of so much more than you thought, and the satisfaction of nailing a problem that has been staring you down will slap a smile on your face for the rest of the day.
Getting Out and About
No one can argue against the mental benefits of a day spent in the fresh mountain air, surrounded with the most beautiful flora and scenery that the world has to offer. Combine that with the challenges and joys of jumping on some real rock, and you’ve got a recipe for a happy and healthy mind. Plus, climbing almost always requires some buddies to help you on your way, whether they’re belaying, spotting or shouting encouragement. And it's pretty tough to walk away from a killer session with a bunch of good mates without feeling lighter and brighter.
While all of the above apply to both adults and spring chickens, we wanted to dedicate a special section to exploring the important benefits offered by climbing for little ones:
Motivation & Discipline
While climbing is incredibly fun, it also requires some goal-setting, determination and dedication if you want to improve your grades. This can help kids to develop a good work ethic, strong discipline and the ability to effectively work towards a goal. Of course, this can be found with any sport, but climbing is unique in that it is much easier to see gradual improvement, particularly if you are trying the same problems or routes over a period of time. That means that children are less likely to get discouraged or bored, as they can more easily enjoy the rewards of their hard work.
So many kids struggle with social anxiety and a lack of self-confidence. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert, introducing children to climbing at a young age helps to get them out of their comfort zone and allows for the development of healthy social skills, independence and self-reliance.
Fine Motor Skills
Childhood is a crucial time in the development of fine motor skills and coordination. While many sports can help with this, some studies have shown that climbing in particular sharpens spatial and directional awareness, and helps to improve skills such as agility, balance and hand-eye (and foot-eye) coordination.
Healthy Body Development
Taking proper care of your body is tough, especially if you are launched into adulthood after a relatively unhealthy childhood and adolescence. By getting your kids into climbing from a young age, you can help them to develop their physical strength, a healthy metabolism, good nutritional habits, and more.
We could go on... but if we did, you would be reading a thesis. So, let’s just keep it short and sweet – climbing is great, you are great and you need to get on a wall right now.